Components of extraordinary governance: Ten areas that are critical to board success, Part 1

A compilation of ten areas of focus that successful boards must invest time in to develop.

As described in the Michigan State University Extension article, Components of extraordinary governance: Background and development, the ten critical things that boards need to incorporate into their work to be successful, are a compilation of principles, functions and methods that are essential to board and organization success. This series of three articles reviews them briefly, while future articles will cover each in greater depth.

The ten components are:

  • Mission-focused actions and impacts
  • Resources to accomplish the mission
  • Constructive partnership between board and staff with clearly-defined roles
  • Performance benchmarking and monitoring for both impacts and finances
  • The board as a body – a thoughtful, intentional plan to govern together
  • Informed policy guides actions that achieve goals
  • Culture of accountability, transparency and integrity
  • Great meetings
  • Culture of forward thinking excellence
  • Responsive and accountable partnership with stakeholders

Mission is the heart of any organization. Mission answers the question of why we exist as an organization. Carver calls it the “ends” of the organization and describes it as the benefit produced, who it is for, and the cost of providing it. Mission defines the results the organization hopes to achieve, and when well written, serves as the benchmark to determine whether any future potential activity of the organization is worthy of the efforts of the board and staff. The exceptional board provides direction through a well thought out, well written statement of the mission of the organization.

As important as mission is, it is nothing without the necessary resources to accomplish it. The extraordinary board writes policy and takes necessary action to secure adequate resources. They also make resource allocation decisions that are in clear harmony with the mission, and with goals and plans developed to implement the mission.

The lack of clearly defined board and staff roles has been the source of many of the problems I’ve seen with organizations over the years, and this is especially true of the relationship between the board and its lead staff person (CEO, administrator, controller, manager, etc.). Some governance models provide specific direction about how to manage this relationship, but what is most important is that both the board and staff have clearly defined roles, and that each understands and honors the agreed upon roles. I call this a partnership because staff can provide valuable input into the process of developing the roles, and because a true partnership enables both the board and staff to contribute their best to accomplishment of the mission.

So, how does an organization know how well it is accomplishing its mission, or whether it is using its resources in the most effective manner? Outstanding boards create systems to benchmark and monitor performance. This analysis is necessary for both impacts related to the mission, and for the efficient use of finances and other resources. Funders are increasingly requiring ongoing documentation of both.

Parts two and three of Components of extraordinary governance describe the remaining six characteristics.

Other articles in this series:

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